I’m Sharon, Angasa’s friend and let me start off by saying Angasa is a gentle giant and I will have a cook off with anyone who disagrees. Wait, what did you think I was going to say? Violence has done enough to destroy this world, I absolutely refuse to perpetuate its damaging effects any further #loverules. Besides, good food and good books always make for good conflict resolution.
lazy busy as she is at the moment and how barren it’s been around these parts, I thought I would share with all of you lovelies (she insisted I call you this) the fine works of literature that made me think and reflect in 2018. I hope my mini-reviews inspire you to add them to your reading list this year. Well, maybe except for the last one.
Before we start, here’s the Pastiche Mode rating scale to give my stars and lack there of some context.
★★★★✩ – Great
★★★✩✩ – Quite good
★★✩✩✩ – Maybe give it a pass
★✩✩✩✩ – Wow. No. Never again.
1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – ★★★★★
Last year, a mutual friend connected me to the Blantyre chapter of Utaweleza book club and though my track record in attending meetings leaves a lot to be desired, I do make up for it by loyally downloading all the books shared on the group and read them eventually.
Mixed with guilt and chance curiosity I decided to read this book but missed the meeting discussing it due to work. It took me by surprise because it’s an autobiography written by a sweet neurosurgeon reflecting about his life before he dies from lung cancer.
In it, Kalanithi talks about his childhood along with his equal love for literature and medicine that would take him on a journey to become a neurosurgeon. After a rapid and unexpected bout of illness in his last year of residency, Kalanithi suspects and receives confirmation of a lung cancer diagnosis.
When Breath Becomes Air (Amazon)
What I enjoyed the most about it is that he doesn’t address his impending death with extreme rage or denial. He is reflective, vulnerable and honest about his feelings and mostly worries about his lovely wife, with whom they agree to have a child and his determination to “find meaning or experience it.”
His words in the final chapter reveal the beauty that can be found even in tragic moments when Paul is at his weakest yet fights to hold his new-born baby girl in his arms and desires nothing more than to live long enough for her to have some memories of him. As he best puts it
“In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture…. Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”
2. Bullet Points by Mark Watson – ★★★★✩ (rounded up from 3.5)
I bought this book from Kwaharaba in 2017 one random afternoon perusing their awesome bookshelf however I only read it in 2018. Ask my lawyer for an explanation as to why I waited so long because I do not owe you one. With the most Stephen Fry review on the cover, the artwork and the fact that it was about a psychologist peaked my interest to buy it.
Bullet Points (Amazon)
The narrative is about a middle-aged psychiatrist named Peter Kristal who has found success treating celebrities. He catapults to fame because of his thesis that used bullet points to put facts about the patient’s life like the index to a book to track the progression of their neuroses. He probes into three patients’ cases, his turbulent childhood, his career along with a complicated relationship between his best friend and rival Richard Aloisi.
As you get closer to the end you realize that the good doctor might just be as sick as the people he is treating. When the bullet points of his own life are laid out, we find out how broken, lonely and distracted by his rivalry Kristal really is and how that made him blind to his own issues. He even calls himself “a psychologically mixed up wreck.” It’s a hilarious riveting book with a surprise ending that makes the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” hauntingly accurate.
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison – ★★★★★ (rounded up from 4.7)
Despite my inconsistency at book club, I
was chosen volunteered to pick a book and I quickly scrolled through my phone and chose this because it was written by Toni Morrison whose I was familiar with.
One consistent theme I have noticed with Morrison’s work is that she tackles dark subjects such as rape and murder with moving delicateness and deft that takes rereading to catch the poignant moment. Just like with her first novel, it is set in the past and there is a vulnerable central female character that displays patches of strength, a horrific moment and a suspenseful ending.
This time we are in the slave era and read about a woman who kills her baby in order to protect the child from the harsh and horrible reality of being a slave. Yeah you read that right. The story tackles the societal, emotional and psychological effects the incident has on the girl, her family the community they live in.
In her later life, she starts a co-dependent relationship with a childhood crush and friend that is eventually waned because of her jealous and fragile daughter and a mysterious girl called Beloved. I still don’t know if Beloved was real or not or why I chose this book. All I know is I have no regrets about it and I did enjoy this harrowing story.
4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson – ★★★★★ (rounded up from 4.5)
This book was a slap in the face the first time I read it in December 2017 so I went back and gave it the other cheek in 2018. I am not one for self help books because of their obvious irony that someone else tells you how to help yourself.
This book however is the unsung anti-hero of all self-help books which is why I read it twice. Passionately profane as it is profound, Manson is basically saying stop caring about things that you have no control over, take responsibility for your emotions, reactions and actions and start caring about non-materialistic and invaluable values such as honesty, gratitude, contentment, handling rejection along with having boundaries.
If you are looking for hardcore honesty and bitter truths mixed with some semblance of insanity and humanity then this book is a must read. With chapter titles such as Don’t Try, Failure is The Way Forward and You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I) who wouldn’t be intrigued to not help themselves.
5. The Diwan of Zeb-Un-Nissa by Magan Lal Jessie Duncan Westbrook – ★★★★★
On a quest for self-improvement, I decided to start reading more poetry so that I could both intimidate and inspire myself, two for the price of one. I have only heard of quotes from theologian and poet Rumi so I took it upon myself to explore Arabic poetry and this was one of the books I downloaded.
The Diwan of Zeb-un-Nissa (Amazon)
It is a collection of fifty ghazals which are Arabic amatory poetry and odes written by the Princess Zeb-un-Nissa. She explores the elusive and enthralling concept of “love” in all its beauty, pain and rawness in poems about self-love, lost lovers and her faith. Showing great intelligence at a young age the Princess wrote in Arabic, Persian, Indian and only got better over time with support from her father. This particular collection of poems was discovered thirty-five years after her death with the title Diwan-i-Makhfi, literally Book of The Hidden One. BOSS!
Of course, there is a bit of a morose side to her story but its all said best in her poetry which is empowering, confident and introspective without seeming daunting or ostentatious.
“How hard to read, O Soul, The riddle of life here and life beyond! As hard as in the pearl to pierce a hole Without the needle-point of diamond.”
6. Enchiridion by Epictetus – ★★★★✩
If you are a fan of animated series Adventure Time then you are familiar with the Enchiridion and the ruckus it caused in the Land of Oo. Although the cartoon uses a different definition of the word than the one in the book itself, I was delighted to find out there were several real versions of enchiridions.
The Enchiridion by Epictetus (Amazon)
This particular small handbook of Stoic ethical advice made me ponder that though I had the occasional tendency to be calm and almost without any emotion, I might have been an actual Stoic in the 3rd Century. Arrian, a disciple of Epictetus, writes concise and brief chapters on applying philosophy in daily life. It addresses how to deal with external influence, determining what is in your control and what isn’t, advice for students along with technical advice on appropriate actions towards others, God and self.
One of my favourite sayings from the manual is “Let death and exile, and all other things which appear to be terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything”. Though a quick read, it will definitely leave a lasting impression.
7. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – ★★★★✩
I read this book diligently in the last few weeks of December and I found it to be humorously profound. If you are not a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fan, chances are you prefer to be enchanted by the wardrobe world of Narnia created by C.S. Lewis. I recently discovered that Tolkien, Lewis and two other authors were in a group together called The Inklings where they would meet regularly to share life and sharpen each other’s work.
Lewis never shied away from weaving theology and fantasy in his work in a brilliant way that brings together opposing beliefs without arrogantly defending or rejecting either side just like this book does.
The novel is a Christian apologetic dedicated to Tolkien and its series of 31 letters, in no particular order, from a demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. The letters are only from senior demon Screwtape’s perspective as he attempts to mentor his Junior Tempter nephew. The latter has been assigned to woo an unnamed young gentleman known as “The Patient” into decisions and a way of life that will end him up with “Our Father Below” (Satan) and away from the “Enemy” (Jesus). Screwtape wants Wormwood’s influence to be subtle; that each time “The Patient” wants to live out his newfound values as a recent convert he should instead lead himself into doubt, shame and a focus on himself which opposes everything “The Enemy” wants.
Wormwood, in true demon fashion, wants “The Patient” to commit grotesque and grandiose sins though there is no evidence that indicates “The Patient” had any inclination to. What this book can show a believer or non-believer alike is that our actions do have an effect on ourselves and our lives and its important to be consciously aware of what we believe and why. Infinite questions will never have finite answers and we can agree that compassion is greater than complacency, active love better than lethargy and faith more rewarding than fear.
8. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – ★★✩✩✩
Don’t get me wrong, this is a well written and detailed book however even as far as sad books go, I feel like it was too sad. I remember feeling a slight tinge of regret after I finished reading and wished I picked another book. I wanted to give up but I kept turning the pages hoping for an amicable ending but instead I got incest and a flashback of a forbidden love affair.
The God of Small Things (Amazon)
I know life isn’t always happy endings and we are all a little sad but shouldn’t we attempt to find meaning even in the gloom, despite how traumatic and unavoidable it is? The book poignantly touches on how the small things can have big effects on our lives. Roy tells us the story of fraternal twins and the events surrounding their childhood and reunion 24 years later.
One character that particularly irked me was their bitter and petty great-aunt called Baby Kochamma who goes out of her way to make everyone as miserable as she is and even causes someone’s death. The twins are so haunted by their guilt and grief-ridden pasts that they have unsuccessful adult lives too. I am no optimist but I think everyone can have a fighting chance to pick up the pieces despite the damage that caused them and this book suggests otherwise. Read at your own risk.
There you have it! My 2018 reads were all about introspection and reflections of the human condition and I can’t wait to read more this year as I have got a long list of physical and digital literature waiting for me. As the saying (I just made up) goes “a page a day keeps the ignorance away” so let’s get reading friends!
Grab a book and enjoy your 2019!